Getting a mind-shift with design students

four photos of students experiences barriers in the built environment.
Figure 2 from the study

Societal stereotypes and assumptions about people with different levels of capability are difficult to shift. It takes more than a disability awareness exercise which is easily forgotten when students graduate. Students need to be immersed in the issues. So how can you get a mind-shift with design students?

A paper from Europe presents a case study of a practical teaching method where students identified real barriers to access by observing people with disability encountering barriers. From this, the students also created design solutions. The learning took place over three weeks which allowed students to be fully immersed in the issues.

The learning activities were conducted as an outdoor simulation in collaboration with a higher-education institution, a clinical centre, and people with disability.

This was much more than a disability awareness exercise that is easily forgotten when students enter the real world of architecture and design. The process was about getting a mind-shift to understand and to create with an inclusive approach. 

The title of the paper is, Experiential learning approach to barrier-free design in architectural education. It proposes a method involving different stakeholders, simulation, mapping and creative design. It has some nice images to illustrate points and student designs. The paper comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina which has recently commenced their accessibility journey.  

Architecture students attitudes

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; and “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. These reasons are not referenced in evidence and indicate an attitudinal bias.

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design, and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section is of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

Similar papers

See also Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, who also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability? Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo presented their research on the incorporation or otherwise of universal design in architectural education at the 3rd International Conference on Design Education Researchers. “Universal Design in Architectural Education: A U.S. Study” was published in The Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference for Design Education Research Vol 2, which has many other articles on the topic of design education.


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